22 & 23
9Discover next-level strategies at Cartoon Business in Belfast or take in sun and screenings at Santiago’s Chilemonos animation festival. [cartoon-media.eu | chilemonos.com] Ridley Scott’s hatches in theaters.
Can’t-miss events now open: Animex Int’l Festival of Animation & Computer Games (Middlesbrough, U.K.), Broadcast Asia (Singapore), Digital Hollywood — Spring (L.A.), Licensing Expo (Las Vegas) and MIP China (Hangzhou). [animex.tees.ac.uk | broadcast-asia.com | digitalhollywood.com | licensingexpo.com | mip-china.com]
Many companies aspire to become global animation studios, producing work with a variety of techniques for diverse audiences on multiple platforms. But few have been as steadily successful in building such a business from scratch as Paris-based Cyber Group Studios, which 12 years from its founding has opened an office in Hollywood and implemented carefully weighed plans to grow in every way it can.
And with at least eight shows in production — among them Zou, Mirette Investigates, The Pirates Next Door, Gigantosaurus, Sadie Sparks, Taffy, Tom Sawyer, Mini-Ninjas and a handful of shows in development — Cyber Group’s plan is so far, so good.
Speaking recently from Paris, co-founder, chairman and CEO Pierre Sissmann outlined his three-pronged strategy for growing the company: International expansion, artistic development and increasing production capacity.
International Expansion Sissmann says the company has spent the last five to seven years solidifying its international distribution capacities and developing properties that would appeal to all continents.
The next step comes with establishing subsidiaries that are on the ground in major markets. Cyber Group’s first subsidiary opened at the start of 2017 in Los Angeles, headed up by Richard Goldsmith, formerly a high-ranking executive at The Jim Henson Co. and Warner Bros. Entertainment.
Sissmann sees an important advantage in having a permanent presence in a market over constant travel or telecommunications from a single base.
“It was obvious for us that we had to be in the U.S.,” he says. “When you look at what we intend to do the next couple of years, I would say we need to be establishing strong bases on other continents, to go from a French player to an international player to becoming a global player to becoming a regional player as well.”
That kind of presence does several things, Sissmann says: It enables the company to better understand its clients, as well as global and regional markets. It also will help the company locate the creative talent needed to serve those markets.
He cites as an example a co-production Cy-
made to aim Digby at an older demographic than originally planned (4- to 6-year-olds as opposed to 3-year-olds). “If you start at 3, you can never go up,” Hyatt says. “If you start at 5, you can go down.”
Visually this involved redesigning the characters to look a little less cute and rotund than those initially conceived by Hunter, and changing the color palette from pastels to earthy hues. Storywise, the writing was also reworked to make it more “aspirational” for preschoolers, says series producer and director Adam Shaw: “It was really working on the character dynamics to increase the amount of drama and peril but also to increase the comedy and the character interaction.”
But it was the show’s unique visual style that proved a main selling point, with attendees at last year’s Brand Licensing Europe even enquiring if Digby was a feature rather than a television series.
“It hasn’t got the shiny, flat CG feel of so many shows,” says Hyatt. Part of that is down to the stop-frame feel of the animation, which was achieved by eliminating soft movement in between key poses.
“That was a style decision I made right at the very beginning,” says Shaw. “We wanted the show to have more of a hand-crafted and textural feel.”
While initially that might have seemed like a time-saver, in reality it threw up a series of technical challenges the team had to overcome.
“Things like camera moves suddenly be- came an issue,” says animation director Matt Tea. “Because characters are moving every other frame so, if you had a fluid camera, the characters would almost kind of jitter across screen space.”
Crafting Every Frame Instead of relying on key frames and breakdowns, the animators ended up having to construct almost every individual key frame.
“Every single frame was pretty much crafted to be a specific frame that we needed,” Tea says. “So in that sense, what we thought would be an easier approach because there would be fewer frames to animate actually proved to be more work.”
But for Shaw, the hybrid-style animation, which he felt complemented the “hand-painted and hand-crafted environments and characters,” was integral to visually communicating the show’s themes of nature and the beauty of the natural world, as well as providing an opportunity to demonstrate his team’s skill.
“There’s a slightly different approach in being able to fully tell their story in their key poses and not relying upon any shortcuts you can make through blending and in-betweens,” Shaw says. “It really puts the emphasis on posing and timing, which is what animation should be all about.” [